trouble up t'mill!

North Yorkshire. A beautiful place, full of hills and vales and fantastic roads. Locals claim it as God’s own country, and if they’re right it must be yet more evidence that He is a biker. With plenty of open spaces away from the restrictions enforced by the urban build up further south, the combination of wide sweeping bends and tight interesting nadgery bits has proven irresistible to the likes of you and me for years.

It’ll come as no surprise to hear that with relations between the locals – both residents and police – and the throngs of bikers who migrate to the area every sunny weekend and evening are somewhat strained on occasions. Many of the locals – Yorkshire folk are nothing if not business savvy – welcome the influx of potential customers. But many others, who are often, in fact, visitors to the area themselves, find cause to complain about people enjoying themselves in a way of which they do no personally approve. The police on the whole adopt a pretty sensible attitude towards the whole thing. North Yorkshire pioneered the Bikesafe campaign so are certainly forward thinking in their approach to bike policing.

But recently things have happened that have changed this. First of all the volume of complaints has risen. This, it would seem, is not solely down to a mass visit by ‘Angry of Tunbridge Wells’ but can be laid at least partly at the feet of those of us who insist on riding flat out in the wrong places and fitting race cans before doing so. We may make more noise than the complainers but they make it more effectively.

The other problem is a little more serious. Well, rather a lot more, actually. 28 riders lost their lives in North Yorkshire last year, 23 the year before. But only 15 in 2001. It’s not all down to idiot drivers failing to see large, brightly coloured motorcycles either, although as always that is a contributory factor. No, a good proportion of the fatalities on North Yorkshire roads (and everywhere else, if we are going to be completely honest about it) are down to motorcyclists misjudging their abilities and paying the price.

North Yorkshire, as we've said before, pioneered BikeSafe, and we think that is a Good Thing. This is what they have to say about it:

"While road deaths generally have tended to fall, there has been an increase in the number of motorcyclists killed in road accidents – an increase that has coincided with the rapid growth in the sales of high-performance machines. 180mph bikes are now available for the price of a small car, and their performance can massively outstrip the abilities of those who have learned riding on very different machinery.

Particularly vulnerable have been “born-again” bikers – riders returning to motorcycling years after learning to ride. Road-rusty, they can afford to buy and insure sports bikes with performance vastly greater than that of the machines they learned on.

The force developed Bike Safe, which has been endorsed nationally by the Association of Chief Police Officers as “best practice” and has been taken up by many other forces. The scheme has won the Prince Michael of Kent National Road Safety Award.

Bike Safe is based on
- promoting advanced riding education, combined with targeted enforcement of the laws governing dangerous or anti-social riding
- involving riders and their interest groups in the policy-making process
- working in partnership with local authorities, the motorcycle industry, dealers and the community"

No complaints there. This is proactive (God I hate that word) policing at its best - police working with road users to reduce accidents. Let's look at the next bit of the press release, though.

"This year North Yorkshire officers have shifted the Bike Safe emphasis in response to another trend: anti-social behaviour, especially among younger riders.

The policing emphasis has shifted more towards enforcement and a harder line that is being adopted towards speeders, racers, white-liners, wheely show-offs and others whose anti-social behaviour spoils the quality of our residents’ lives – including those who fit ear-splitting racing exhausts to their machines.

At the same time the force is strongly reinforcing the message to other road users that they need to be aware of the vulnerability of motorcyclists; by no means all motorcyclist deaths are the fault of the rider involved."

Now this rang a few alarm bells, especially when combined with a few other quotes I heard about this scheme. It has been suggested that bikers caught speeding in North Yorkshire can expect to be fast tracked through the courts and banned, regardless of the number of points on their licences. Yes, they can do this. It has been suggested that David Collins, the Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable responsible for traffic, believes that anyone who fits an aftermarket exhaust probably warrants police attention for other reasons as well. His words, not mine. The phrase "lifestyle criminal" came in there somewhere as well.

The trouble is, the last part of the message - about educating other road users and the fact that not all accidents are the rider's fault - will get lost in the inevitable storm of protest about ACC Collins' other comments.

So I rang North Yorks Police. After all, we all know that journalists misquote and distort things, right? Tony Lidgate is their Press Officer. I'll say one thing for North Yorkshire Police. They're pretty upfront about things. I asked Tony about what ACC Collins is quoted as saying. He called me back a few minutes later and confirmed that yes, he had said that and yes, he stands by it. Well, fair play to the guy for having the guts to stand by his principles rather than being a politician and saying what he thinks people want to hear. We then had a lengthy chat about numbers, causes, trends and so on. Because a jump in fatalities of over 100% in 2 years can't be acceptable to anyone, and if we think that it'll go un-noticed then we're living in cloud cuckoo land.

So what's so special about North Yorkshire? Well, lots of people visit, the scenery is very nice and the roads are challenging. Now let's look at it from a biking point of view. Lots of bikers are there so the chances of getting sucked into going faster than you want are quite high. Plus lots of other traffic means people going for dodgy overtakes, perhaps. That interesting scenery is edged with drystone walls. About as unforgiving as you get. And challenging roads mean there are plenty of opportunities for investigating that scenery. Assuming you don't hit something coming the other way first, of course.

So we can see why North Yorkshire may have more than it's fair share of road accidents, bike and car. Trouble is, nobody knows why bike fatalities nearly doubled in 2002.

I'm not going to make any closing statements. The facts are before you and you should act on them as you see fit. If you want to object to North Yorks policies, e-mail us or use the forum and I'll make sure Tony gets your comments. Until then, I'll leave the last word to him. Be careful out there.

"The bottom line is that there are so many factors behind the causes of motorcycle deaths that it is perilous to try and find a single headline reason. As I said before the mix includes fashion, sales of certain kinds of bike, weather (especially) and just plain bad luck. There have been no major changes in policing or council policies, nor in the way the figures are recorded. What ever the root causes of the rider casualties, for North Yorkshire Police the cruel reality is that we have to deal with the consequences of bad rider and driver behaviour; we do our best to educate road users and try to persuade them to drive or ride in a certain way, and we warn them of the consequences if they pay no heed. But if they choose to ignore our advice and warnings, then it's us that has to deal with the horrible consequences and that is not a job we enjoy or want!"

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